Class with Michael Stipe blends media, art

Nina Jang

An eclectic merger of discussion, experimentation, art and technology, the ambitious “New Sights, New Noise” class-created exhibition opens a dialogue between NYU students, faculty and members of the art community. Overseen by lead singer of R.E.M. Michael Stipe and director of the 80WSE Gallery Jonathan Berger, the exhibit, which will be open until Nov. 8, uses 15 different projections throughout the gallery as an ever-shifting collage to represent the class’ weekly themes.

Although the class has a strict schedule of meeting Tuesdays to discuss its previous show, the upcoming theme and the plans for the next exhibition, the curriculum has been anything but traditional.

“We went into this project with a crazy proposition where Michael and I would teach a class and not predetermine anything in the show, but get together in a room with 18 students to have conversations, generate images and curate the shows,” Berger said. “In one way it’s very clear, but at the same time it’s leaving everything up in the air. But it’s been nothing but great.”

The class is frequently visited by guest artists who propose the theme of the week. From there, the students draw images utilizing social media platforms, most commonly Tumblr. Within groups of five, the students meet outside of class three to four times a week to discuss the curative direction of the gallery.

“There’s not a slacker in the class,” Stipe said. “Everyone’s really stepped up in a way that I did not expect. I didn’t know what I had to offer them, to be honest, or how they would perceive what I had to offer. I feel like it’s genuine dialogue.”

Steinhardt junior Autumn Hamra said because the students are responsible for curating the gallery to complement the weekly theme of the show, they must work together to establish a sense of coherence within the collage of images.

“Most of the time we generate images from social media, and we use [those] as ideas so that we can sit down and discuss the show because our main point is to create a cohesive show,” Hamra said.

Drawing from his 31-year experience as the lead vocalist for the ’80s band R.E.M., Stipe gathered knowledge about visual representation including record covers, music videos and the presentation of the band in global media.

After being asked by Berger for collaboration on the project, Stipe decided to undertake the challenge.

“I love the experience of getting to spend time with people of a generation that has a very different perspective on technology and on art than I do,” Stipe said. “My experiences are from a very different place, so being able to find common ground … is really pushing everyone to communicate a little bit better. And that is what this class is about. Communicating and having a conversation, particularly using technology and the Internet.”

Steinhardt junior Paula Rondon said heavy use of the Internet in collecting images and the use of projectors to display the chosen images at the exhibit have been unique experiences.

“It’s been a cool process because we use projections that are pulled from so many sources and work with the guest artists that create the prompt, which is itself a process that’s not really being done in the art world right now,” Rondon said.

Steinhardt junior Devin McNulty said the creative freedom of the exhibit and classroom relies heavily on group communication.

“I feel very appreciative of working in a group environment because I’ve never really worked with people in studio art this closely [where] you’re able to collaborate,” McNulty said. “A lot of our [previous] projects have been individual so it’s been very nice to get to know my peers.”

This desire to think creatively without constraint to curation norms is exactly what Stipe said he had envisioned as part of the project.

“When I trust my instinct, everything flows,” Stipe said. “So that’s what I wanted to bring to the students. I’m bringing my experience to them and in return I’m getting a lot back.”

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 27 print edition. Email Nina Jang at [email protected].